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Extinction Rebellion: A Criminological Assessment


The behavior of individuals in a society is influenced by multiple factors and motivators. Political, economic, social, cultural, and psychological issues become decisive determinants of citizens’ responses to particular events; the most significant and relevant to criminology are protest movements. However, within the past years, environmental concerns have become a significant driver of protests and social movements that unite individuals in masses of activists. Massive protests that resonate with many individuals are difficult to control, which implies the cases of transgression and unlawful actions of protestors. Extinction Rebellion has evolved into a powerful protesting movement that is characterized by criminal activities. However, despite the positive agenda it promotes, it is commonly criminalized. The current project aims at exploring whether Extinction Rebellion protestors are criminals using the narrative criminology framework, transgression theory, and green criminology theory.

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Movement Description

Extinction Rebellion is an environmental movement that emerged in 2018, primarily in the UK and other countries. The demonstrations in London have been one of the most massive and provoked much coverage in the media as well as public response. After the scientific announcements related to the growing global threats of climate change and the adverse impact of industries supported by governments on the environment, activists started gathering to demand policy changes. The goal of this movement is to obtain “the “bare truth” about the climate crisis” and force the governmental authorities to respond adequately to the environmental issues on the policy-making level (The Guardian, 2020, para. 6). The demonstrations commonly involve delinquencies, criminal activity, and vandalism to attract attention to their agenda.

Instances of Crimes Committed by Extinction Rebellion Activists

The events related to Extinction Rebellion have been actively covered in the news and have reached scholarly circles. Despite the seemingly peaceful agenda of the movement that aims to promote environmental protection through policy change, Extinction Rebellion became well-known for frequent crimes and transgressions. Indeed, as reported in The Guardian (2020), vandals defaced Winston Churchill’s statue and “semi-naked protesters who chained themselves to railings surrounding parliament” (para. 6). Moreover, the protestors disrupted the work of government agencies, blocked roads, and undermined the work of newspaper publishers (Browne, 2020).

The Nature of Mass Protests within the Narrative Criminology Framework

The collective nature of mass protests predetermines the individual behaviors of the participants of a movement. Individuals are exposed to the influences characteristic of rebellions, due to which they behave differently than under normal circumstances. The features that contribute to transgressions committed by individuals in protests include a mystified power of a collective, the sense of support of the fellow protestors (Joosse, 2019). Also, the implied superiority of the ideas promoted by the rebels over common norms of behavior leads to choosing outrageous and often unlawful actions subject to criminal justice.


Given the scope of influences, the collective nature of Extinction Rebellion has on people, the behavioral deviations observed on the news allow for analyzing the several types of transgressions. The analysis is based on the idea that transgressions occur when an individual crosses the limits of behavioral norms, which exist on several levels (Peter-Izaguirre, 2019).

Firstly, as introduced by Peter-Izaguirre (2019), personal limit transgression occurs when an individual commits an action that is outside the cultural expectations or social norms of interpersonal interaction. Being a part of a group, protestors are more likely to engage in unlawful deeds individually.

Secondly, civic limit transgression takes place when an institutional rule of behavior is violated. In the case of the Extinction Rebellion, protestors as an organized group cross the institutional limit when they break the law and become subject to criminal justice (Peter-Izaguirre, 2019). Finally, a social limit transgression occurs at the intersection of institutional norms and society’s common cultural beliefs that recognize particular actions as unacceptable or inappropriate. Extinction Rebellion demonstrators commit all three transgression types due to the individual and collective crimes that are criticized by the public.

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The Green Criminology Theory

To present the demonstrators’ perspective, one should present a theoretical basis of their agenda. Such disruptive and contradictory actions are validated by the green criminology theory. This approach is used to argue that governments commit crimes against the environment by advocating for anti-environmental laws and promoting climate-disrupting industries (Gacek and Jochelson, 2020). Thus, the participants of the Extinction Rebellion focus on policymakers and government agencies across the globe as criminals who must be punished.


Regardless of the Extinction Rebellion participants’ validation of their actions by the concepts of the green criminology theory, their disruptive actions are characterized by law-breaking and must be considered criminal. According to Hallam (2019), the only way for environmental movements to make a social and political change is by employing nonviolent means. Therefore, from the perspective of criminology, violence, and transgressions used by Extinction Rebellion activists to highlight the issues they fight for cannot be justified.


Browne, E. (2020) ‘Extinction Rebellion facing massive crackdown after demo chaos – ‘not your normal protest’, Express. Web.

Gacek, J. and Jochelson, R. (2020) ‘Animals as something more than mere property: interweaving green criminology and law’, Social Sciences, 9(7), p. 122.

The Guardian (2020) ‘Extinction Rebellion protester arrested for defacing Winston Churchill statue’. Web.

Hallam, R. (2019) Common sense for the 21st century: Only nonviolent rebellion can now stop climate breakdown and social collapse. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Joosse, P. (2019) ‘Narratives of rebellion’, European Journal of Criminology, pp. 1-20.

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Perez-Izaguirre, E. (2019) ‘Can transgression define identity in educational settings? A Basque-based framework for identity-in-interaction,’ Frontiers in psychology, 10, pp. 1-9.

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